The captain of a support ship to the Royal Navy has paid tribute to his crew after the ship returned to Plymouth today (Friday) after nearly two years on deployment.
Captain Nigel Budd, the commanding officer of Royal Fleet Auxiliary Gold Rover, said: “I am delighted to return to the UK after this very successful 21 month deployment. Our return is the end of a another chapter in the proud task of continuous RFA logistic support to the South Atlantic since 1982, which for the majority of the time has been provided by a ‘Rover’ class vessel.’’
In order to keep Royal Naval warships on station at sea the ship has travelled 91,860 nautical miles since leaving Portland in Dorset in August 2011. It arrived back at HM Naval Base, Devonport, having racked up 7,789 man-hours on watch and travelled an average speed of 11.8 knots while refuelling and restoring Royal Navy ships on patrol with food, equipment, spares, medical supplies, water and other stocks as well as taking part in exercises and carrying troops taking part.
Captain Budd added: “Of course the tasking and activities of the ships have evolved during this period, and I am proud that the ship and my ship’s company have been recognised for the versatility and fortitude that has shown in the widest range of activities and areas, all in the generally extreme conditions of the South Atlantic.’’
RFA Gold Rover has spent most of its epic patrol in the South Atlantic and travelled to the Falklands with stops in the Gran Canarias, Ascension, St Helena, South Africa and Africa while ensuring warships on patrol were kept at sea without the need to go into ports. The ship has marked the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Falklands Conflict 30th anniversary in this period.
During its time down South the ship restored with HMS Montrose, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Clyde and HMS Protector and visited islands on diplomatic and reassurance missions and an exercise involving taking on board 90 soldiers. Veterans from the South Atlantic Association were also embarked – four survivors of RFA Sir Galahad and one widow and laid a wreath over the spot where the ship was sunk during the 1982 Falklands Conflict. Christmas 2011 and New Year 2012 was spent in Simons Town in South Africa for a maintenance period.
Last year was spent rounding the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn to replenish HMS Montrose and returned to the Falklands where the ship was involved in the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands War. A Memorial Service was held onboard and over the spot of the sunken HMS Sheffield. Battlefield Tours were undertaken by ships staff, with some crew members having served onboard vessels or were boots on the ground back in 1982. This was a time for remembrance and reflection by all.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee saw Gold Rover anchored in Ascension and dressed with festive pennants while crew joined in with the celebrations, a big fish fry up and carnival procession. It was also an opportunity for old friends to reunite with former shipmates working there. Captain Budd also presented the crew with their Diamond Jubilee medals.
The ship then re-supplied the new Type 45 destroyer HMS Dauntless and assist in providing maritime security to the Gulf Of Guinea. This was a first for the ship in conducting a replenishment at sea with this class of ship and in providing a presence in this high-threat area.
On return to South Africa the ship was fitted with the new electronic digital chart system while Leading Hand Kelly Duff ran a sponsored Race for Life event in memory of her granddad supported by her colleagues and raised £700 for Cancer Research. Also while on patrol colleagues also bid farewell to Chief Engineering Office Charlie Brown after three years in Gold Rover and 43 years with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. A fine send-off was given, with a surprise tour of a Euro Fighter and a slap-up meal on shore.
The ship embarked on an epic trip accompanying HMS Dauntless to the Equator and back non-stop – a total of 7,213 nautical miles. The crew also enjoyed a visit to see penguins in the South Atlantic where with ice navigation was essential. Amazing and beautiful animals and bergs were seen, including a 19 mile long tabular berg.
The crew spent 2013 New Year in Cape Town and some sailors braved shark-infested waters by diving among them – thankfully all were returned limbs in tact! They also climbed Table Mountain.
RFA Gold Rover escorted HMS Edinburgh to the Equator earlier this year – the last replenishment of the warship with the RFA and its last in the Southern Hemisphere before the destroyer is decommissioned. This was marked with sailor Kevin Mackinnon playing the bagpipes as a tribute.
Maritime security operations took RFA Gold Rover to the Gulf Of Guinea with Plymouth-based HMS Argyll and visited Abidjan on the Ivory Coast then Luanda in Angola and Walvis Bay in Namibia. With both hosted guests to maintain trade and diplomatic links.
RFA Black Rover took over the patrol from Gold Rover, but was still on duty and reported suspected illegal fishing while on its return to the UK. The final leg of the deployment included a visit to Las Palmas and a call to the admiral in charge of the naval base and the Canary Islands’ naval flotilla. The ship will now undergo a short refit.